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Chris Stewart

Collective Architecture's Chris Stewart discusses his overlapping roles as architect and member of the Scottish Ecological Design Association in promoting green design to a wider audience.

Fortnightly Blog 9 - Fin de 'Fin de Siècle'

February 10th, 2014

Faster than a movement, more creative than a fad, able to complete tall buildings in a single bound, was that a 'fin de siècle'. Neither DC Comics, Nietzsche nor Goethe can claim Superman, the spirit of fin de siècle on the other hand seems to have been fermented by the latter's mate Schopenhauer in the late 19th Century: boredom, cynicism, pessimism and a widespread belief that civilisation leads to decadence.

When within, it can be hard to realise, educated during the height of post modernism, I have mixed emotions for this derided movement; I learnt recently about the probable demolition of Michael Graves's Portland House, described by Charles Jenks as a seminal building: I disconcertingly reminisce Charles Moore's moniker crushed into a fake capitol as part of his seminal Piazza d"Italia in New Orleans: I wonder one day will all this be lauded: I cringe to think it might.

'The past is but the beginning of a beginning, and all that is or has been is but the twighlight of the dawn' (HG Wells 1899). Herbert George could not have expected the endless 60's, 70's and 80's revivals we have been forced through over the last decade. Nothing is original, according to Jim Jarmusch's fifth rule, 'steal from anywhere which resonates and from that which speaks directly to your soul'. It is again with mixed emotions that I learnt of FAT's last gig, you have to admire those who swim against the flow, I love the engagement but not necessarily the PoMo revival.

Steven Holl's addition to Glasgow School of Art's campus was completed this month, commissioned a century after the completion of the Mackintosh building, that most fin de siècle of all structures. The principles of magical thinking informs us that if two objects come into contact they will affect each other even when apart, will the magic of Mackintosh rub off on Holl, if the rooster does not crow will the sun rise. A chance to view the relationship between the two can be enjoyed at 'Drawing on Holl' an exhibition curated by Mark Baines to be seen at the Mackintosh Museum. Apparantly there are 7 laws of magical thinking, the sympathetic law provides meaning and understanding of the baffling events that may occur to anyone in any place; Alan Miller is collecting just such memories from the Victoria Cafe and it's history spanning the original salvage from Govanhill by Mac students to the latest vieled embrace by the Reid building. Details on how to pass on your memories or how to visit the exhibition please see below.

Mackintosh died penniless in 1928, spending his later years producing exquisite water colours in the South of France merging the man made with the natural, what does the future hold for this generation. The 19th Century fin de siècle was quickly followed by the mass horror of World War One, dissilusionment of the old and the birth of the Modern Movement. We currently have a foul recession draining our standing in the construction industry with the possible exception of the starchitect, in a world where the gulf between the rich and poor widens, architecture is no exception. Unbelievably recent surveys have shown the pay gap between male and female architects has grown.

2014 holds some possibilities, in Scotland it includes the vote for independence. My difficulty is an aversion to nationalism; an acceptance that the best ideas are with Holyrood and an affinity with English industrial cities. Would London be swapped for Edinburgh, either way Glasgow would remain the second citiy and share that gallus nature with likes of Barcelona and Chicago, which together enjoyed the lions share of the last fin de siècle. My hope lies with the similarities in the counterculture of the fin de siècle and the punk movement. Both celebrate the romantic willful sense of decay and a rejection of social order. Both are concerned with equality, freedom, individualism, direct action and free thought, that's a way forward.

Such potential holds the key to an alternative approach to architectural practise; by allowing individuals to flourish and enjoy a decent relationship with the public perhaps we can win back their faith. In the words of one who mamaged to straddle the decades better than most:

"I'm not a prophet or a stone aged man, just a mortal with potential of a superman" (David Bowie 1970)


To pass on memories of the Victoria Cafe, Glasgow School of Art, please contact Alan Miller at either or

"Drawing on Holl' from 08th February untill 23rd March 2014 at the Mackintosh Museum, The Glasgow School of Art, 167 Renfrew Street, Glasgow G3 6RQ. For further details please check

Festive Fortnightly Blog - horribilis or mirabilis

December 27th, 2013

Humans are not natural cannibals, at arguably the most demanding time of the year they prefer to show feelings of bonding and togetherness. This is because as a species they need to work 'cheek by jowl' to survive however the stronger urge to propogate, leads to power and control. This desire to rule can be such that as with Cronus, chief Titan of the Golden Age, to prevent his sons from ruling, he ate them.

Complicated stuff, but how about an anarcho-syndicalist commune where turns are taken to act as executive officer for the week (search for the Holy Grail, 1975). Or what about buying your Christmas presents from a mega rich company who use vast ware houses, pay no taxes but offer a huge selection, the cheapest prices and deliver to your door (Amazon, 2013). Or even the most glorious building designers in the world checking your bank balance to be sure you can afford to work at their feet for free (Libellous, 1984).

The winter solstice is the darkest time but not the most demanding, this will arrive as reserves run low and the biting cold of late winter has still to be overcome. Recessions follow a similar path, as when finally there is an economic reversal the wolfs continue to pick off the weakest, with more companies going under during the upturn than the recession itself. At this time it is important that we shrug off the dark side and avoid the urge to consume ourselves, feasting on low fees, poor quality work and further loss of public confidence.

Come the revolution will we still have the Queen's Speech, from what I can tell 'annus horribilis' was an invention of our fine monarch during one of her better known recitals. Many believe this a reference to the antics of her offspring and is spawned from the lesser known 'annus mirabilis'. This was a description of 1666, the year of both the Great Plague and the Great Fire of London, stangely 'annus mirabilis' translates as the Year of Miracles. The original poet John Dryden searched for the positive and his title was re-used by Philip Larkin in reference to his miraculus loss of virginity in swinging '1963, rather late for me'. Those with a love for poetry should have a think about entering The Empire Cafe's poetry competition, an opportunity to participate in the cultural activities of the Commonwealth Games, and enjoy tea, coffee, sugar and cotton, in the company of Jude Barber and Louise Welsh, entries to be submitted by 12th January, details below.

We harvest what we sow; for me 2013 has been more mirabilis than horribilis. SEDA is reinvigorated, Collective Architecture plough new fields and the Glasgow Institute of Architects make steps to scatter seed far and wide. If karma can be chameleon, it will surely come out of hiding in 2014  in the fluttering form of architectural anarchy; the individual shall flourish rejoicing in the group. The G.I.A.'s task would put Santa to weep, it's size and variation is diverse. It spans from Oban to Dumfries and Moffat to Tobermory; it houses the urbanity of Motherwell and Greenock to the isloated splendour of Bowmore and Campbletown; while it's wealth is kept in Helensburgh and Hyndland witheld from Cumnock and Calton. Memebers are called to arms from top down to inside out to participate in 2016 The Year of Architecture. Glasgow will be host from Burns Night to Leap Year Day, those interested please make contact, details below.

As the New Year approaches and as you look back, what if Keir Hardie had not settled in Cumnock, Walter Blackie not built in Helsnsburgh and Campletown Loch was whiskey; surely revolutions would go wrong, revelations become a disappointment and resolutions be broken; let's just give each othe a bit of mirabilis.


Glasgow Institute of Architects 'Call to Arms' for members across the chapter, check for details.

To submit a poem to The Empire Cafe prior by the 12th January 2014, check for details.

SEDA Green Drinks 30th January 2014 with Frank McAveety discussing urban cycling at Siempre Bike Shop, 162 Dumbarton Road, Glasgow. Check for details.

Fortnightly Blog 7 - renaissance person and the art of multi tasking

December 1st, 2013

As the horseman Haiyan wreaks destruction, famine, pestilence and death, I feel confusion as I contemplate the spork. The cyclone can at least multi task fourfold and the spork twice, what if anything, can fulfill a solitary task. Buildings certainly have a good bash, anyone who has tried to convert a church will agree, while the humble Glasgow tenement is oft quoted as flexible. It's flexibility though is misplaced for it's longevity, but a genuine multi tasker?

Reduction of destruction, labour and war has set the male world in quandary, they wonder networking and collaboration. They now make up less than half of all entrants to architectural school and medical school has seen their numbers dwindling at a quicker rate. Stereotyped as the slow starter, shamefully they still take the lions share of the better jobs, we are all well due for a change. Interestingly a new breed has emerged which prospers, the metrosexual; well groomed, communicative and more willing to work with others, but a genuine multi tasker?

The tenement and the metrosexual have a lot in common but neither can compete with a bare chested Putin riding across the tundra barking orders at the peasants. Putin would be a decent name for a cyclone, I find it wierd the most destructive cyclone in recorded history was called Mitch who managed to scythe down 11,000. It was heartening to see our metrosexual monarch Becks, contribute his designer clothes to help the Philippine disaster. PR stunt or not a bit of recycling helps, for an alternative contribution try

Jonathan Charley had been scheduled to deliver SEDA's October Green Drinks on the ecology of disaster, this would have been timely in an unfortunate way. Jonathan released a whiff of the talk by letting SEDA know that solar panels and domestic wind turbines piss in the wind of natural global forces. His contribution to SEDA's 'Green Cities' recently published magazine, took a more personel view on mankind's ability to shape the planet with his comparison to Asmirov's entirely urbanised planet Trantor.

The magazine is a reaction to the recent fact that half the worlds expanding population reside in cities while the enduring image of ecological design is rural. Everything the urban eye beyolds is designed, surely this is where ecological designers should cast theirs. A great evening was spent last Thursday at the Lighthouse debating this point with the evangelical Diarmaid Lawlor of A+DS tackling the topic 'do greens hate cities', quoting Herbet Giradet, Petra Kelly, Doreen Massey and Juhani Pallasmaa, just a few from a galaxy of planet sized brains.

Flexibility now seems different to a dimmed light, bachelor bed folding from the wall, and has been resurrected as something more thoughtful and scrubbed up; one person's perfection is another's dystopia. As UPVC reduces the sperm count, the doomed male bastion of inflexibility contemplates the horrific branding of greek letters in the cowardly old world. Hands up who preferred John the Savage, to the Alpha Plus, metrosexual perfection of Mustapha Mond (and who preferred Clockwork Orange to Brave New World).

What now is the amoeba of the architectural world and who dishes out the somma. A single sex organism can at least divide in two while architectural practice sharpens its hold on psycological manipulation and operant conditioning. This pales in the shade as the human race takes a man look at the fact our current rate of global consumption is one and a half planets, while we need five planets to survive, summed up by Bill and Ted in their original encounter with Socrates, 'we are all dust in the wind dude'.


SEDA 'show and tell' 03rd December 2013 at 5.30 pm, Edinburgh A+DS. Check for details.

Bill and Ted 3 featuring 'death' the fourth horseman of the apocalypse is due for release in July 2014.

SEDA Green Drinks 2014 is kicked of on 30th January with Frank McAveety discussing urban cycling at Siempre Bike Shop, 162 Dumbarton Road, Glasgow. Check for details.

Fortnightly Blog 6 - Immaculate conception or architectural gang bang

October 1st, 2013

September, that most Glaswegian of months has more birthdays than any other, the reason being the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ or the drunken fumblings of a festive season. I often wonder if Jesus looked like Mary and Joseph, in the same way children miraculously morph, often with an emphasis but always a combination. Design seems a more complicated matter.

As a student I often distressed at the mantra 'too many chiefs, not enough indians', a contradiction as we were prepared as 'master servant' fodder, while tutored to be individual. Andy and Isi, who repeated these words were I suspect fortunate in a more generous mentor. In the same way every writer has a book inside them, I have always believed that every decent architect has design inside them, which when added to our training can be a horrible under use of resource and a narrowing of our built environment. Autumn brings with it a new academic year and contrary to those yellowing leaves, I feel more of an opportunity to turn a new one. Excitement and opportunity fills my heart, not the desire to glorify another. It is easy to understand why the one true conception - not a product of the many - is a preference, too many hands watering down the idea, a Frankenstein mish mash of parts. There are others though who see a bouncing fertile soup, breeding fresh numerous thoughts, rather than some seedless barren hermaphrodite.

My academic year has begun jumping between Strathclyde University's old building and half finished new one, the vessels have changed but happily not the content. At this stage the half finished is shiny and worringly tutors have been issued with blue tack which does not set the correct mood for artistic conception. What then is the architectural version of the dimmed lights, a red rose and Marvin Gaye? Is it the black polo, the rotring pen and powermac or something more dirty dancing like the concept model, the collage and dada poem. Personally I split lovemaking into two parts, firstly the idea and secondly hand / eye coordination but always look out for unwanted stylistic bed companions, Post Modern Classicism fast becoming the beige cardigan of architecture.

Starchitects rarely seem to collaborate, or if they do it is as a series of individual efforts taking on the appearance of a MENSA kindergarten. Many a pub conversation has drifted towards the creation of an architectural super race, what would the offspring of Zaha and Norm look like and when did I start refrerring to them by their first names. This naturally happens when one gets so well known and can not be manufactured no matter how hard Cheryl Cole tries. One word architect practices are a rairity, typically being a collection of serious surnames; in the nineties, a shrine of christian + surname; and a much more recent and more fun trend is the bizarre. We all love Dress for the Weather, Pidgin Perfect and Ice Cream Architecture.

There is an ancient Jewish concept that great prophets have an 'integral age', the notion that the prophets of Israel die on the same dates as their birth or conception. The old testament was often daft but it is worth reminding ourselves that Jesus (one name) was actually more socialist than Karl Marx (two names) and more caring than The United Kingdom Independence Party (bizarre).

Scary SEDA Green Drinks, 31st October at Strathclyde University featuring Jonathan Charley discussing the Ecology of Disasters, fancy dress optional.

Fortnightly Blog 5 - The Day of the Dead Alive

August 25th, 2013

'A misogynist slap of a castle', the parting metaphor of a deteriorating night but just standing, I could claim, I was there when Disembodied Energy was born.

It began with a day time ferry trip, mis-timed in an attempt to get a ringside view of the destruction of Inverkip Power Station, mis-timed as a night time demolition had been arranged. Disappointed, the remainder of the journey was spent counting the high rise blocks of Glasgow stripped for demolition and shrouded in the banner of those proud to remove them. None of these heroic structures would enjoy the exit of Inverkip but were being slowly disemboweled by long limbed machines picking out what could be sold. Embodied Energy is the sum of all the energy required to produce any goods or services, considered as if that energy was incorporated or 'emodied' in the product itself. Never does the sum of the parts equal the whole, or so we thought that night.

What followed saw the resurrection of a broken pact to complete the work of the good villagers of Golspie, who for the last few years had been picking away at the bottom left hand corner of the 100 foot tall statue of George Granville Leveson Gower and encourage it's collapse. George is better known as the First Duke of Sutherland who plonked his likeness on Ben Bhraggie for all to see and was chief architect of the Highland Clearances. One of the proud three named on the urinals of the Lismore Bar where inebriated males are encouraged to pish on their memory. His fellow shower companions being Patrick Sellar and Colonel Fell.

My mistake was to claim expertise in explosives when my knowledge actually only extened to weed killer recipes and a sense of humour which enjoys loud bomb making conversations at the airport check in. Big Mac, the Rothesay nationalist seized on this and the pact was re-born as a complicated pulley system to deposit a pot of (water based) red paint over his head. I enjoy relieving myself in the Lismore with the best of them but shy away from nationalism being more of a believer in the Glasgow City State with an empathy with fellow industrial cities such as Liverpool and Newcastle. More of an un-independence, which will be explored at SEDA's 2014 conference in Ullapool together with the reclaiming of land from the few by the many. What did the SNP do for us apart from build the aqua-ducts.

Big Mac chairs the Bute Film Club and shares the love of a good film, the night before we kind of enjoyed World War Z where Philadelphia borrowed the body of Glasgow for the first and best five minutes. Their explanation of the zombie, a host to disease, fast moving and desperate, reminded us of the various plagues to sweep our industrial cities. The motorways (can anyone believe we built the M74 extension), the ridiculous Bruce Plan (can anyone believe we are building a model of this) and the demolition of the Victorian tenements (can anyone believe we are still bringing them down). I have yet to understand how latent steam at 100C is hotter than boiling water at 100C, or where 21 grams disappear at death, nor remember The Charing Cross Hotel. Not just zombies are killed twice, our body dies and then later we are forgotten. Those who destroyed the Giant Buddhas of Bamiyan; removed the Stalin Monument from Prague (locally known as the queue for meat) or slapped the head of a toppled Saddam Hussein carcas with the sole of a shoe, understood the value of memory.

A more sober exploration of Disembodied Energy is now being taken seriously at Scottish Universities and methods to measure all that is lost beyond bricks and mortar judged as pertinent. Little we knew that evening, as we brought our session to a close with a series of jocular metaphors, 'what if Brad Pitt was a building'. No decent suggestions rose that night (answers on a cinema ticket to Bute Film Club), on the other hand 'what if Sean Connery were a building'.


Bute Film Club winter programme now available on

SEDA Conference April 2014, Ullapool - exploring the theme of independence and the power of community. Check for future details